Saturday, March 17, 2012

In The Days Before Saint Patrick.

For Feile Padraig in the Vancouver Sun I have an essay about the ancient islands of Ireland's west coast, beginning with Oileán Chléire,where I start out at Ciaran Danny Mike Sean Eireamhain O'Driscoll's, the southernmost pub in all Ireland, to discuss life's mysteries and the comings and goings of the storm petrels and the fin whales. There are about 100 islanders. They speak Gaeilge, but among the many things they will be happy to tell you in English is that Saint Ciarán was born there in the 5th century, before Saint Patrick's time. He wore sealskin robes and preached to the seabirds.

If you find yourself out walking with Mary O'Driscoll, the wife and boss of Ciaran Danny Mike, you will come to know that you have not gone out to Cape Clear Island, which is what blow-ins call Oileán Chléire, at all. You have "gone into" it. Another thing: the O'Driscolls are more properly called the O'Drisceoil, and they were respectable ship's pilots and not the savage pirate lords of the Celtic Sea that the townies talk about back on the mainland.

From the old port town of Baltimore it can take less than an hour to reach Oileán Chléire, depending on the weather, but it is only a few minutes to Inis Earcáin, otherwise known as Sherkin Island. There, the ferry puts in just below the ruins of a Franciscan friary that was sacked by an army that the merchants of Waterford raised against the islanders in 1537 to avenge the O'Driscolls' capture and plunder of a Waterford-bound Portuguese ship that was laden with fine wines. Or so they claim in Waterford, anyway.

But today is not Saint Ciarán's Day. That was two weeks ago (March 5), and by the way Saint Ciarán of Oileán Chléire is not to be confused with Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, whose feast day is September 9 and who is coincidentally associated with Hare Island (otherwise known as Heir Island, otherwise known as Inis Uí Dhrisceoil), another lovely island I visited only a couple of days after my stay out in Cape Clear. Just to be clear.

And to clear up the stories you hear about Saint Patrick, what follows is the story as told by a young girl whose name is lost to us even though it was only in the 1960s that her recounting was recorded by her teacher Peig Cunningham of Donegal at Rutland Street primary school in working-class North Dublin. The child's telling of the story of Patrick was among several stories told by schoolchildren on an old tape recording discovered in the 1990s by a certain Father Brian D'Arcy, and the tape came into the hands of the genius animator Cathal Gaffney, whose film based on the recordings ended up nominated for an Oscar.

The voice of Peig Cunningham at the beginning is that of the actor Maria McDermottroe. The child's voice is the original. Give Up Yer Aul Sins:


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